Cord Cross Canada: Couch surfing along the East coast
At the beginning of the summer, I promised myself to stay away from a corporate office cubicle or a place where I would serve coffee to impatient caffeine addicts.
I had been living in Ontario for the last five years and I desperately needed a break. I wanted to do something different; something new, adventurous, fun.
There is one thing I have never confessed to anyone before. I have always had a thing for icebergs.
Long before Titanic hit theatres, I was glued to the Discovery Channel watching the humongous icy structures with wide-eyed amazement.
I have always believed that one should explore their own backyard before they see anyone else’s. Canada is big, offering everything an adventurer can dream of. As fascinating and beautiful as the rest of Canada is, once I found out about the presence of icebergs near the northern coast of Newfoundland, it took me less than 24 hours to chalk out my whole trip itinerary.
A fellow photographer friend of mine mentioned this newly emerging concept of couch surfing and I decided to do some research; I’m glad I did.
Couchsurfing.com is a trust-based online network of individuals all over the world who open up their couches to host travelers looking for a place to stay.
Similarly, travelers (or surfers in this case) who are looking for a place to stay get in touch with these hosts.
This host-surfer relationship is unique in the sense that you get to meet locals, experience the culture and get to know the hidden and unique spots in the area that no guidebook will ever tell you.
In return, you are expected to help out with some basic chores like cooking, cleaning and doing the dishes. The host and surfer then leave references for each other on the couch surfing website.
Not a bad bargain at all.
Catching the wave
I booked the VIA train “The Atlantic” from Montreal to Halifax and a flight from Halifax to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
I carpooled from Toronto to Montreal where I surfed in an apartment with a music student named Marie-Claire and her partner for the night. It was their first hosting experience and my first surfing experience.
The next morning, Marie-Claire and her partner made me a delicious breakfast that I devoured. I thanked them for welcoming me to their home, exchanged contact information and left for the train station.
As my train pulled into Halifax, I was eager to meet my new host – a retired navy officer, Wayne Boone.
I arrived at his home and couldn’t believe what I saw. The house was packed with books. I later learned that my host had a private collection of over 40,000 books organized theme-wise in every single room of the house.
The reader in me was in paradise.
Wayne was a great story-teller and shared his experiences, anecdotes and pranks from his navy days.
The next day, my host drove me around the outskirts of Halifax and showed me all the beautiful places.
We went to the Sunday flea market and had some fish ‘n’ chips for dinner. The food was delicious, reasonably priced and the portions were huge.
That night, I tossed in bed trying to fall asleep. One thought kept creeping in my mind. Did this stranger that I met only two days ago really just open up his house for me to stay in, drive me around all day showing me all the beauty of his hometown and expect nothing in return?
The next day, Wayne drove me to the Halifax Airport.
Shooting ice giants
As the plane touched down on the tarmac, I could see why people told me Newfoundland was beautiful. I instantly fell in love with it.
I was excited to meet my next host, Ben Strickland. I walked into his house without a plan for what I was going to do for the next 13 days.
My main mission for the trip was to photograph icebergs.
This is easier said than done considering I do not drive a car and icebergs are constantly drifting.
I just wasn’t sure if I would be lucky enough to see any icebergs from the city. I did not want to get my hopes up.
Sometimes I feel like planning is good but should be limited. It is best to just go with the flow.
It took me only seconds to meet Marie-Pierre, another surfer staying with Ben. She is a French teacher who drove all the way from Quebec.
Meeting Marie-Pierre was a fantastic stroke of luck, as she also wanted to explore the natural beauty of the Maritimes.
Two days later, both of us took off in her minivan and traveled all over Newfoundland.
The first iceberg we saw was at Bay Bulls. It was further than we had imagined and we had to drive quite a distance to get close to it. As the minivan came to a halt, I grabbed my camera gear, jumped out and ran in the direction of the iceberg in the bay.
Getting up close was a bit rougher than I had imagined.
I hopped from rock to rock and made my way through the thorny wilderness. By the time I got down to the water level, my hands were scratched but I will never forget what I saw. Only a few feet away was the enormous expanse of whiteness that I had been dreaming to see all my life. I stared at it for a few minutes before realizing I had a camera that I should use to capture the moment.
Most of the icebergs spotted in Newfoundland originate from the glaciers of western Greenland and travel for a year or longer before they reach the northern maritime coast. The glacial ice that these icebergs are made of can be up to 15,000 years old.
In just the first week of my journey, I had traveled thousands of miles, photographed many more icebergs, slept in the minivan, camped out in Gros Morne, saw the reconstructed Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, ate canned food, saw a moose and even ate a moose burger.
Newfies by their nature are friendly, chatty and lead a simple life. In Winterton, we were escorted all over the town by a stranger only to later find out that he was the town’s mayor.
At the visitor’s centre in St. Anthony’s, we were fed breakfast and hot chocolate.
Back in St. John’s, I met up with my relatives and got treated to some delicious homemade food. It was a change I gladly welcomed. I flew back to Halifax and Wayne picked me up at the airport. I had called him earlier from St. John’s and told him I had heard a lot about Cape Breton and was interested in exploring it.
Wayne had found three German backpackers who were interested in exploring the island with us. We camped for a week all over Cape Breton.
The scenery was gorgeous and I got to capture some beautiful sunsets.
At the grocery store, we met lobster fishermen and chatted with them for a bit. They invited us down to the docks the next morning and offered to take us lobster fishing with them.
Again, these people were complete strangers but very friendly. Later that night, the fishermen came over to our campsite, huddled around the fire pit and shared a few beers and some good laughs.
Back in Halifax, after our minivan broke down on the highway, in a matter of few minutes, plenty of cars stopped by and offered to help. I had never experienced that before in my life.
During the month, I met and stayed with many hosts, met interesting people, experienced local culture, took risks and lived life on the edge.
One important lesson that I learned from this trip was that there are still nice people out there who will try to make you as comfortable as possible.
They will genuinely care for you and look after you.
There is plenty of goodness and kindness still out there waiting to be experienced. If you need some reassurance, Atlantic Canada will give you plenty.